BOISE — After almost four hours of testimony March 6, a bill backed by dozens of Idaho farm groups that would consolidate and strengthen Idaho’s trespassing laws was sent to the House floor with a “do-pass” recommendation.
The House Agricultural Affairs Committee on Feb. 14 voted 11-1 to approve a bill by Rep. Judy Boyle, a Republican rancher from Midvale, that amends the state’s trespassing laws.
Boyle rewrote the bill to address concerns of sportsmen’s groups and others opposed to it.
Following another four hours of testimony during a public hearing March 6, the committee voted 11-3 to send the updated version of the legislation to the House with a do-pass recommendation.
The legislation is supported by dozens of agricultural groups.
It eases the “private property” posting requirements that property owners have to follow, which currently include placing orange “no trespassing” markings every 660 feet.
The reporting requirements are burdensome to landowners and are not resulting in trespassing prosecutions, said Gary Allen, an attorney representing a 34-member coalition of farm and other groups that support the bill.
“The current law is not working for landowners,” he said. “We have a coalition of 34 groups that is saying that it isn’t working.
The legislation significantly increases penalties for trespassing offenses that include damage. Under current Idaho code, someone convicted of trespassing faces a $50 fine.
Under Boyle’s bill, someone convicted of a civil trespass violation with damage faces a $500 minimum fine for a first conviction, $1,500 fine for a second conviction and $5,000 fine for a third conviction.
Someone convicted of a criminal trespass with damage faces a $1,500 fine for a first conviction, $5,000 fine for a second conviction and a $15,000 fine and a felony for a third conviction.
“The current penalties for trespassing do not act as a deterrent,” states a letter submitted in support of the bill by Idaho Grain Producers Association President Dwight Little. “Increasing penalties and making them more meaningful will truly act as a deterrent.”
Little said IGPA members “also appreciate that this bill works to clarify and simplify landowner requirements for the posting of private property.”
The bill requires people to get written permission slips from property owners before using their land and several committee members and people who testified questioned the practicality of that.
A letter from Food Producers of Idaho in support of the bill noted that Idaho is the fastest growing state in the nation and two of the counties with the largest population increases, Ada and Canyon, have significant agriculture industries.
“As the population has increased and the clarity between agriculture and urban has blurred, there is more chance for confusion by citizens as to what is private property,” the FPI letter states. “House Bill 658 helps bring together fragmented sections of Idaho Code addressing trespass and builds a comprehensive outline going forward.”
The letter says the bill is a “tremendous improvement to the current law, which is often confusing and does not provide adequate deterrence for penalties for those who do not respect the rights of a property owner.”